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Your Never-Too-Late Tour de Suisse Tandem Preview

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Just in time for the race to get real

Good times on the Furka Pass
Corbis via Getty Images

Hey, look everyone! It’s the Tour de Suisse! Wait, wait, please don’t go anywhere. This year might not be the same Spilak-Costa snoozefest of yore. In fact, there is a 62.37% chance that the winner of the Tour is going to have ridden this race and not the Dauphiné. We at the PdC are so excited about this race (The views and opinions expressed in the preview do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the PdC and certainly does not reflect the views of either Andrew or Conor who would rather watch a post-Tour crit than this race) that we decided to bring in two editors to discuss the epic racing that awaits in the land of cheese, chocolate, clocks, cows, clandestine banking, and…. Mathias Frank (I just cannot come up with a Swiss cyclist whose name begins with C, maybe Chris can figure it out).

The enhanced start list at the TdS this year is thanks to FIFA’s scheduling of the World Cup at the same time as the usual start of the Tour and the resulting week later start of the Tour due to that scheduling conflict. I smell a Swiss conspiracy, which, strangely, smells an awful lot like Emmental cheese. As a result, there are now three weeks between the end of Suisse and the Tour (and four weeks between the end of the Dauphiné and the Tour), leading many of the teams to send their Tour GC hopefuls to Switzerland. Richie Porte, 2/3rds of the Movistar Tour Cerberus of Nairo Quintana and Mikel Landa, and, uh….. Jakob Fuglsang, Bauke Mollema, Wilco Kelderman, and Steven Kruijswijk. So maybe it’s not the deepest Tour GC field, but it’s certainly higher quality than in the past. You’ve also got Suisse mainstays like Simon Spilak, Rui Costa, and Mathias Frank. Oh, and there are actually sprinters at this race (Sagan, Greipel, Gaviria, Cobrelli, Demare, Matthews, Kristoff, Degenkolb, Cort, Halvorsen) as opposed to the Dauphiné where you have Pascal Ackermann and Daryl Impey contesting the bunch sprints. So, Chris, do you share my enthusiasm for this year’s Tour de Suisse? Sure looks better than the beached dolphin over in France, where four Team Sky riders occupy the first 4 positions of the overall after four stages because of the TTT, right?

STAGE 1 - TTT

Immediately the TdS organizers want to try to disprove our belief that this may be an exciting race as we start with a TTT. The first two stages of the race both start and end in the same place, Frauenfeld, while the last two stages of the race start and end in the same place, Bellinzona, which is nice for the riders and live spectators, but not too nice for us viewing from home as we get a circuit and then a time trial in each location. Truthfully, though, I think I prefer a TTT to start the race rather than a prologue. At least it’s over quicker and is a little more visually-stimulating than watching a prologue where 95% of the individual riders don’t give a damn about their results.

This TTT even has some climbing and descending that the teams will have to cope with. As always, the official profiles are often either misleading and/or completely unhelpful, so I’ve provided a profile that actually provides some information.

So, Chris, do you think the organizers really just hate Damiano Cunego by including this TTT as the first stage, thus guaranteeing us that we will have to wait for another race for his comeback?

Stage 2: Frauenfeld Circuit Race, 155km

Startlist:

Damiano Cunego...hors delai...

Chris chiming in here. I am kind of amazed you started with Cunego. It shows that you were willing to scroll all the way down the startlist to the very end. Or that you were researching recent TdS editions back to 2012. When I saw you mention his name I did a Kyle Reese from Terminator:

The great news is that if he survives stage 1, and undoes time so that the race resumes on June 10, 2007, stage 2 is designed specifically for a Damiano Cunego attack and solo victory.

TdS Stage 2

Cunego’s 2007 explosiveness, cunning, and descending technique will all serve him well. If, however, some mysterious, unseen force limits Cunego’s ability to dominate this stage, well... I guess someone else will win instead. Someone who goes fast. Maybe one of those overpriced Italian guys like Colbrelli?

I can’t really tell because the information on the race website is so terrible, but it’s clear this is a mere ride around town. But not just any town. According to the race website Frauenfeld is said to have everything you need for a good life... starting with an excellent infrastructure. Is that what I need in life, more infrastructure? Is this the cure to the blues, a nice retaining wall? Could that new road you’ve been hankering for be the thing that reignites the light inside you which has died? I’m not sure. It may be that they are just baiting Americans. Anyway this stage won’t change your relationship to the race or to infrastructure, but it should be short and fun.

Shawn, how is the infrastructure around you? Or is that too personal a question?

STAGE 3 - Classics-style - Oberstammheim to Gansingen, 182 km

Shawn: Chris, one thing you should know about me is that I never talk about my infrastructure on a first tandem preview. However, that is not the case with those strumpets organizing the TdS, who are back flaunting their infrastructure on Stage 3. Did you know that according to the organizers, Oberstammheim “has a modern infrastructure and is home to a surprising number of commercial and service enterprises”? I mean, my town has not one but two Roy Rogers restaurants, but you won’t hear me bragging about it.

Nonetheless, even if you are super excited about the number of commercial and service enterprises in Oberstammheim, this stage should get you excited as it has the look of a classics profile:

TdS Stage 3

As always, you can usually only trust the Swiss profiles as much as you can trust the president of the United States, but this profile does provide the rare fairly accurate representation of the stage. Here’s what the final circuit looks like:

The TdS organizers, who may or may not have ever seen a bike race, believe that a “small breakaway group of sprinters” will “steal the show.” While I would love to see the spectacle of Peter Sagan, Andre Greipel, and the other sprinters alone in a breakaway as promised by the 2015 Tour, I’m not so sure we’ll get so lucky on this stage.

While I could see Sagan involved in taking this stage, he’ll probably be competing with the likes of Tim Wellens, Philippe Gilbert, and Greg Van Avermaet for the stage honors.

So, Chris, why do you think that the Swiss, who are known to be very exacting and precise, are so bad at providing accurate information and profiles for their races? You think we should ask Guido Stereotipico and Mario Manogesticulo their opinions?

Stage 4: Gansingen— Gstaad, 189km

Chris, again: Shawn, how about asking Fabian the Financier or Matti the Money Manager? I don’t want to get into gross stereotypes, but Swiss people are clearly all obsessed with banking (and cheese, and raising St. Bernards... let’s move on), so it stands to reason that cycling — which has a tendency to put the “bank” in “unexpected bankruptcy” -- is not drawing in the top Swiss thinkers and planners. Yes, they could provide us incredibly precise information about the roads they’ve been planning and traversing and using to keep the Germans out for 1500 years or whatever. They just don’t feel like it.

The road to Gstaad is one of those places. Historically it’s not so much a road to keep the Germans out, and it’s not really even a road to keep the Italians out, because who worries about that? If anything, it’s more of a road to get to Italy if the Germans break through from the north. They even tried to make peace with their southerly, parmesan-coated neighbors by naming the high point the Saanenmöser pass, after Lo Sceriffo, Francesco Moser. Like Moser, the Saanenmöser pass looms over all (of Gstaad), but at an average 4% gradient, which would not be enough to deter even a meh-diocre climber like Moser.

Profile:

TdS St 4

Saanenmöser Pass

Sannenmeh-ser Pass

TBH, this looks like something in Washington State, where the gradients are trucker-friendly even if the nearby views are UNESCO-quality. On paper you would think Washington State could host a phase of the Giro d’Italia, what with all our wonderful terrain and the fact that if Israel can do it, so can we. But the reality is that our falafel options largely suck, and our terrain isn’t world-class unless you’re willing to ditch the bike and grab your rucksack. At best, I think we could host a stage of the Tour de Suisse, if the hosts ever determine that they could save a lot of money by exporting the race to America.

So yeah, Gstaad. Gstaad is near Switzerland’s most majestic peaks... but the race doesn’t go there. It’s not far from the linguistic border of Romandie, which they do head into the next day, but not all the way to Large Hadron Collider-ville. It’s just one missed opportunity after another. I hope Michael Matthews wins the GC.

Shawn, I see that Gstaad’s motto is “Come up, slow down,” aimed at the local celebrity culture that defines the ski villages here. Do you think that’s a terrible message for a bike race, or more of a horrible one?

STAGE 5 - Summit Finish - Gstaad to Leukerbad, 155 km

Shawn: Chris, for a race that has attracted most of the Tour’s sprinters, it is quite the appropriate slogan as there hasn’t been any fast stage for them, and yet there hasn’t been any really hard mountain stages, so we’ve probably seen the slow speed escapades of the two Enricos (Gasparatto and Battaglin) vying for the stages. Anyway, it doesn’t hold a candle to my favorite passive-aggressive city motto of the State where I was born, New Jersey: “Trenton makes, the world takes.”

Anyway, this stage sees the riders finishing on a summit finish to the town of Leukerbad, whose slogan is probably “Sure, the bike racing might suck, but we have a slightly prettier finish than the Liege Pizza Hut”:

Leukerbad is also home to thermal baths, which date back to Roman times, and are charmingly named after the American fast food chain Wendy’s: Burgerbad. If Davide Malacarne was still in the pro peloton, this would be a stage for him.

The official profile makes this stage look a little more interesting than it will likely be:

That last climb is long, at about 20 kilometers, but only averages about 4%, though it is quite irregular with some flattish sections and steeper sections:

The peloton have raced for bad burgers on two prior occasions, with both occasions seeing the heavy hitters take the victory: Steve Morabito in 2006 and Rudy Matthijs in 1985. Maybe an Izagirre brother could join that illustrious company.

So, Chris, we are now 5 stages into our preview and have discussed Damiano Cunego, Francesco Moser, Davide Malacarne, and Steve Morabito. How apoplectic do you think sminer is right now considering we haven’t even brought up Richie Porte? He might need some Swiss Gemütlichkeit.

Stage 6: Flesch — Gommiswald, 186km

Chris, again: That photo of Leukerbad, seems like you could carve some giant faces on those granite walls and class the joint up a bit, no? As for Porte, he could use some hardenthefücküplichkeit, that’s for sure. That’s a little-known Swiss-Aussie delicacy. Best served ice cold.

Also, Speaking of serving things cold, I haven’t checked the weather, but Stage 6’s Adventures through the Upper Atmospheres should be when things get memorable. I am starting to formulate an answer to your original question, Shawn, and yes, I am getting revved up for this race. No, they don’t serve me the dish I want, where they do a MTF atop the Furkapass, but those practical Tour de Suisse people are better at giving cycling what it needs: a hard day in the saddle with a fun finish, neither of which will force anyone to burn matches they wish they hadn’t.

Profile:

Stage 6

The headliner is the Furka Pass, one of the country’s more notable roads. Here is a quaint scene of people driving on the Furka pass clipped from a Swiss Tourism Board promotional film:

Adorbs. The Furka Pass might be harder ??? because it hits a summit that’s 500 meters up from the day’s second climb, the Klausen Pass, but as far as gradients go, that’s your main challenge:

Klausen Pass

This is why you don’t learn much from looking at average gradients. It’s all fun and games, or so you might think, when you add in a km of -2%, but the fact is this is a beast of a mountain. The Furka Pass is rated #120 in Switzerland (they have a lot of climbs), while the Klausen Pass is #59. So not every 6% average is the same I guess.

Anyway, this stage will be sink-or-swim time for Cunego. Or, if I’m being honest, Spilak or Swiss. Someone will get left behind, at least for a while, and even with 40km after the final major climb, the last uphill into Gommiswald will assure that no less a climber than Michael Matthews will have a realistic chance of winning here.

Is it time for us to say who we think is the favorite? So far I haven’t read ahead to the last three stages, so if I were to base my opinion on what I know, I’d have to stay with Cune... uh, wait, the TTT results are in. So yeah, Richie Porte has this in the bag. I kind of hope BMC do something here, possibly their last chance to pay homage to the late Andy Rhis and his legacy which has meant so much to their team. That would be a great story. But it’s weird being so far from the Tour. Shawn, do you think the going-to-France guys have an edge in this race or would you lean toward the coming-from-Italy crowd. Or maybe scrum. They are few in number.

STAGE 7 - Summit Finish - Eschenbach/Atzmanning to Arosa, 170 km

Shawn: Yeah, the Tour guys definitely have an edge in this race. It kinda feels like they are crashing Spilak et al.’s party. I can relate to their plight. As a runner, myself, I’m not very fast but on occasion I like to race a local 5K or half marathon where I may have a good chance at a high finish if only because I’m racing against middle-aged overweight women in fanny packs. I’ll go to some of the races and a goddamned high school cross country team or a bargain-bin Kenyan will show up at the start, ruining my chance of winning that coveted $50 gift certificate to Chili’s.

And you’re right, Chris, this is Porte’s race to lose. If you look to the last stage, it’s an individual time trial. While it may sound like a back-handed compliment, Porte is one of the best one week stage racers of his generation and this course suits him. I think that BMC have sent him to the Swiss races this year, less for the hardenthefücküplichkeit, and more for the staythefückawayfromFroomelichkeit to avoid Froome getting into his head like he did at the Dauphine last year.

However, I’m not sure that BMC counted on Porte’s probably biggest rivals at the Tour following him to Switzerland. I am of course talking about the Izagirre brothers Quintana and Landa. I’m not sure how much either one cares about winning the Suisse, but I’m sure that Movistar will relish the chance to strike a body blow against Porte before the Tour and all those mountains sandwiched between the two time trials, even if they aren’t the hardest, provide them with a good opportunity to do so.

This stage will be the last chance for Movistar to try to break Porte. It’s not the most opportune stage to do so, as it’s a more-or-less a mono climb stage:

Profile stage 7

That climb to Arosa at the end isn’t the most difficult either, as seen by everyone’s favorite old racist uncle, Michael Albasini, winning on it the last time it was used in 2012 (not to be confused with the previous time that Arosa was used when everyone’s favorite old doping uncle, Chris Horner, won).

Profile of Arosa climb

The avuncular climb is over 30 kilometers, but with an average gradient under 4%, but really is all about the first 5 kilometers and the last 5 kilometers. So, yeah, it doesn’t really look like it provides much of an opportunity for attacks leading into the final decisive time trial. I think your prediction of Michael Matthews winning the GC is looking better and better.

Two years ago, this race saw the emergence of Superman as a GC rider. So, Chris, do you see any possibility that we see a breakout performance from any up and coming riders (besides Cunego of course) at this race?

Stage 8: Bellinzona Circuit Race, 123km

Chris now: Are we sure that isn’t Damiano Cunego, Jr.? I haven’t been reading Vlaanderen90’s blog enough lately, but if it is, color me excited! This task is always a tough one, especially at a race like the Tour de Suisse where it’s anybody’s guess what sort of orders these guys are under. So I’ll start throwing spaghetti at the wall here:

Michael Gogl, Trek, an Austrian who’s been around the block a couple times and might be ready to do something. Jose Gonçalves of Katusha, who might not fit the description because he’s old enough to grow a beard and also just rode the Giro. Tejay van... no wait. Sam Oomen won’t be sneaking up on people, and is also coming off the Giro, but he wouldn’t be here except to win, and if he pulled that off, it’d be something. Nans Peters of AG2R is coming off fifth at the Tour de l’Ain. And finally, the best answer I have for you would be Enric Mas, because he’s maybe the hugest talent and because I am done looking up young riders. Also it’s not that hard to imagine Quick Step winning, amirite?

As for Stage 8, it’s a circuit around Bellinzona that is one of the three pointiest stages of the entire race. It looks like the close-up of a saw blade. But don’t be fooled into thinking it will be a big day for the GC. I mean, given the neh-ture of the climbs in this race, the GC could come down to three seconds here or there, in which case every feature of the road is potentially “decisive.” But not really.

Bellinzona CR

The last time they were in Bellinzona it was for the opening ITT in 2014. [More on that in the next chapter.] Did you know! that the Canton of Ticino, Switzerland’s only Italian-speaking area, is the warmest part of the country? It is surrounded entirely by Italy, and I can’t think of anything warmer than being surrounded by Italians. [Well, I can, but it doesn’t involve being in the Alps.] Apparently the real reason is that it’s a lot sunnier than the remaining mountainous enclaves, which I also think has something to do with Italy. Can’t be sure.

Ugh, I hate to get all serious here, but Shawn, do you think it’ll all be left to play for still at this point in the race? I just wrote a long thing about LeMond winning in ‘89 on a concluding time trial, so I guess that would be the best possible outcome here, right?

STAGE 9 - ITT - Bellinzona, 34.1 km

Shawn: I, and my FSA DS team, like your pick of Enric Mas for having a breakout race. I’d also be interested in seeing what Jack Haig can do if allowed to ride for himself, even though I’m not sure why Mitchelton-Scott sent him here after the hellish Giro he just endured. I’m also interested to see how some of the very young riders-- I’ll call them the Brat Pack-- will do. Bjorg Lambrecht (Lotto-Soudal) just turned 21 a few months ago and doesn’t look a day over 16. He also just quietly took a 2nd place overall at Norway Part Two, Fjords Boogaloo. Pavel Sivakov (20 years old) was a big neo-pro signing for Sky, and he may get his first opportunity to go for a result here as Sky brought their C team. Aqua Blue Sport will be bringing their 21 year old neopro, Eddie Dunbar, whose had some decent results already this season, including a 4th overall at the Belgium Tour.

As to your last question, Chris, I think it is inevitable that the GC will still be in contention. This time trial in Bellinzona is quite different from the opening TT in 2014, where it was 9.4 km and had a climb. This TT is mostly flat and a long 34.1 kilometers:

Having that long of an individual time trial at the end of a week long stage race, where the other stages are not very hard, is the Family Feud method of course design, where the only thing that really matters is the last round/stage. (Now, get Carlton Kirby to kiss all the riders on the lips before the stages and the analogy is really apt). Barring Porte pulling a Landis Froome in the mountains, the outcome should depend on this stage.

My gut tells me that the Movistar duo probably need at least a minute on Porte going into the TT to stand a chance, however, I’ll just throw up this stat, free of any context, to suggest it may be otherwise:

2016 Tour de France - Stage 13 ITT (37.5 km) results:

20. Nairo Quintana 3:08

21. Richie Porte S.T.

Also, let’s not forget that there are other riders in the race and tell me that a race with easy mountains and lots of time trialling doesn’t positively sound ideal for an Ion Izagirre victory.

So, Chris, now that we’re close to 4,000 words into our preview and two days into the race that we’re previewing, we should probably put a wrap on this thing. It seems that we both think that Porte is likely going to win and that there will be a Cunego-aissance. This race almost has to be better than the damp squib that was this year’s Dauphine, right?

Chris here: Yep. It should be fantastic. June races full of guys prepping for the Tour can’t help but be memorable and entertaining. Seriously though, I have been a TdS guy for a while because it’s a bit bigger than a warm-up race, whereas the Dauphine, being in France, can pose solely as a Tour companion and everyone will be fine with it. I like the Tour guys showing up and doing things, but if they don’t, there will be a pretty reasonable battle by an interesting group of riders for the overall. Switzerland itself will be the star, it’s such a unique and alluring place, everyone watching will just want to get on their bike. So I guess the Tour de Suisse just has perception on its side, and if the race resembles that perception at all, everyone goes home happy and eats a bunch of fondue.

I don’t love the dominance of the ITT, I don’t think that plays into having an entertaining race, it’s more about getting Tour guys to come. Does that pay the bills? Should the Tour de Suisse try harder to the the Dauphine? Really? I don’t know, but as we like to say in cycling, if it’s horribly broke, don’t fix it.

Thanks for stoking the tandem preview! Enjoy the race everyone.